Introduction to Hospital Waste Management

May 1, 2011 | Healthcare Risk, Quality, & Safety Guidance

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Billions of pounds of waste are produced by U.S. hospitals every year, with paper and cardboard making up about half the waste (EPA “Profile”). Proper treatment, storage, and management of waste is expensive: disposal costs for hospitals have been estimated at $10 billion annually (AHA “Waste”). Hospitals produce many types of waste, which are regulated by federal, state, and local agencies. Identifying the types of waste produced in a facility can allow for appropriate planning of treatment and disposal, as well as ensure that regulatory requirements are met.

This Risk Analysis describes the common types of waste present in hospitals; applicable federal, state, and local regulations; accreditation requirements; and methods for minimization, recycling, and disposal. For more information see the sample policy Waste Audit Sample Form.

Waste in the healthcare setting can be generally grouped into the following categories, which are often referred to as waste streams:

While these are the four most common types, some hospital wastes fall into more than one category (e.g., a hazardous waste that is contaminated with LLW) and have characteristics that must be specifically addressed in waste management planning. These wastes are described more in-depth here.

MSW is nonhazardous municipal trash and garbage and has no inherently harmful characteristics that merit special regulations. Included are...

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